Yosemite With A Plan

Tuesday afternoon’s traffic jam made Chicago’s rush hour look tame. We did not want to replicate that experience, so for our return on Wednesday we went with a very simple plan: 1) Get there early. 2) Park in the shade. 3) Walk everywhere.

Now, I understand that “early” is a relative term, but we were packed up and ready to go by 8am and that made me happy. Since we were able to drive right past things like Tunnel View Point and Bridalveil falls, and since the construction detours wouldn’t even let us near Half-Dome Village, we got into Yosemite Village pretty quickly.

We ended up in a spot that was equidistant between Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Village. That parking strip was so wide open, I pulled in and then backed up until the truck was in the shade.

Success!

On to step 3: Walk everywhere. And walk we did. In fact, my only regret with step 3 was leaving Bailey in the truck. I had no idea Yosemite was so dog friendly. We first walked over to lower Yosemite falls, which turned out to be a paved path that allowed dogs.

I didn’t get any pictures of the lower falls. Sorry. The mists coated my lens immediately, just like at Bridalveil Falls. I had to shift my focus.

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I had to pantomime what I wanted Michael to do, since the sound of the falls was deafening and he couldn’t understand what I was trying to tell him.

After Yosemite Falls we moved on towards Camp 4. If you’re not familiar with Yosemite’s climbing history, the name might not mean much. But Camp 4 is considered by many to be the birthplace of modern rock climbing. People like Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard stayed in Camp 4 while putting up first ascents in the valley. (Apparently Chouinard also made and sold climbing gear in Camp 4’s parking lot. Pretty fitting for the guy who went on to found Patagonia Outdoor Clothing & Gear.)

Climbers used to pretty much live in Camp 4 – which was a point of contention with the Park Service. These days Camp 4 is walk-in only (no reservations allowed), and between May 1st and September 15th there’s a 14-day limit.

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While we had no chance of staying at Camp 4 (it’s a tent only site, no sleeping in your vehicle allowed), it’s still free to walk through. And Michael really wanted to walk through Camp 4. The reason?

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This is the Columbia Boulder. Michael is standing in front of Columbia’s most famous bouldering problem, Midnight Lightning, first ascended by Ron Kauk in 1978. Here’s YouTube video of Lyn Hill making this V8-rated problem look easy. She became the first woman to send Midnight Lightning in 1998.

After taking in Camp 4 we headed back towards the truck, partly to give Bailey a break and mostly to make a little lunch for ourselves. The day was sunny and warm but our well-chosen spot remained in the shade all day.

Refueled, it was time to hike to Mirror Lake, which sits right below the one thing we’d barely seen in Yosemite: Half Dome.

The “trail” we hiked on was also dog friendly (which I found out when we reached Mirror Lake) and was an odd mix of pavement, dirt, and half-washed-away-pavement. There have been floods in the valley in the past. Honestly, this trail looked like it was all paved at some point, then was damaged by a flood, and then the Park Service just said, “ah, whatever,” and opted not to re-pave it. It made for an interesting hike.

The views from Mirror Lake were pretty damn worth it.

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It’s still pretty unbelievable to me that in 2012 a climber named Alex Honnold performed something called the Yosemite Triple Crown: he climbed Mount Watkins, the Nose route of El Capitan and the regular northwest face of Half Dome, all in 18 hours and 50 minutes.

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On a separate occasion this guy climbed Half Dome in 1 hour and 22 minutes. This is a 2,000 foot ascent. And in case you’re wondering what that route looks like, here’s a link.

 

 

We walked back to the truck along a bike path that parallels the Merced River. Fly fishing is pretty popular in Yosemite.

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When we finally got back to the truck, we were both a little beat. I figure we walked 7 or 8 miles that day. Michael got out the hammock and we took turns enjoying it.

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By the time we were ready to leave the Park and head back to our campsite, it was around 6pm and traffic had dropped off considerably. Nice job, team!

We planned on heading back to San Luis Obispo the next day. But when we got to a place with cell reception (the town of Oakhurst, to be exact) Thursday morning, we had a message from my sister in law, Ali. One of her kids was sick and she wasn’t sure how contagious she was.

Well, spending another night in the woods certainly wasn’t a problem for us. But it was now the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. We didn’t want to go back to Yosemite, which was sure to be more and more crowded. A quick search over lunch brought us to Nelder Grove Campground. It was only a half hour away. Score!

However, when we got to Nelder Grove, there was only one site left and it wasn’t really a good fit for Taco Negro. Luckily we were in Sierra National Forest and a short drive led us to another perfectly good site. We even got to drive across the base of a waterfall along the way.

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We decided to stay for two nights. Friday morning was so nice and warm, I was wearing shorts and putting on sunscreen while waiting for the water to boil for coffee. But by 10am the first clouds rolled in. By noon I was so cold I started a campfire. A good campfire will warm you up, of course, but the thing that really gets your blood moving is collecting firewood.

After a couple of hours we had all these beautiful coals in the fire. Michael decided that dinner would be a campfire dinner, and started digging out the CampMaid.

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I’ve written about the CampMaid before (here, in Arizona and here, in Idaho), but the CampMaid Outdoor Grill is definitely one of the niftier gadgets we carry around. We have the 3-piece combo, which consists of a lid lifter (which doubles as a base for the grilling operation), a charcoal holder, and a grill.

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Before Michael grilled up those Italian sausages, he made one foil packet with sweet potatoes, and one packet with sweet peppers and asparagus. The packets went into the fire pit itself.

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I don’t know how Michael does it, but he timed the packets perfectly.

 

 

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Then he decided to reminded me that it’s always fun to play with your food.

 

 

 

And of course everything was delicious. Campfire dinner was a raging success.

 

Yosemite National Park

First, I want to thank all of you for the kind words, both here on the blog and on Facebook, for the tribute to Elvis on my last post. You’re all so thoughtful and your comments mean the world to me and to Michael.

With Michael’s parents in a bit of a holding pattern, we decided to hang out in San Luis Obispo for a bit longer. But I really, really wanted to get to Yosemite before Memorial Day. Everything that I’ve read, every person I’ve talked to about it, they’ve all said summer is the high season in Yosemite Valley, and that the traffic is miserable.

So we made plans. Parts of it were tough – setting aside the extra leash and food bowl – but Bailey is up for anything, and he was ready to go. We drove out from SLO towards Fresno, then made our way up Highway 41 towards Fish Camp.

Just outside the Park boundary is a place called Goat Meadow Snow Play Mountain, which does not contain any of those things, but was still a free place to camp. Hardest part was finding a remotely level spot that was not directly underneath a dead tree. (Pine beetles are devastating the trees out here, just like they are in Colorado.) Eventually we found a site we felt we could live with.

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I read that Goat Meadow is about an hour from Yosemite Valley. We headed out around 9am, having no idea what to expect, other than a pretty drive. We were not disappointed in that regard. Then, we came around a turn and there was a big pullout on the right side of the road. We pulled over to check it out.

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I’m pretty sure I squealed like a little girl: that was Half Dome! I’d been seeing that gorgeous rock formation in pictures for so many years. Finally, I was seeing it in person. Oddly enough – this would be pretty much the last time I saw Half Dome that day. More on that later.

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The next viewing area was just past a tunnel, and called (appropriately enough) Tunnel View Point. I made this picture small – Tunnel View Point looks best in the afternoon sun, and that picture is coming. On the left side of the valley is El Capitan, and on the right is Bridalveil Falls.

 

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Parking was still plentiful so Bridalveil Falls was our next stop. This area also gave me a great photo opportunity – Taco Negro with El Capitan.

 

 

 

 

I’ve mentioned before that the snowpack in the Sierras was at 170% of normal this winter, and that means that the waterfalls in the Park were raging.

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We actually walked up to the end of the path, which was was covered in about an inch of running water. I brought my camera and took a few photos, but none of them turned out all that well – the lens kept getting covered with mist. Bridalveil Falls was raging.

Moving on. In a sign of things to come, parking at the Swinging Bridge area was tight. We only got a spot because somebody was leaving right as we pulled in.

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This gigantic log is trapped underneath the bridge by its root system. That’s how high the water is on the Merced River! The view from the other side of the bridge was pretty nice, too.

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That’s Yosemite Falls, both upper and lower, although it’s hard to see the lower part. I moved along the river for a bit for a better (although that’s a pretty relative term) view.

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I think I have about a dozen images of Yosemite Falls… from this location alone.

Eventually we did move on. And then the “fun with construction” began. Our first day in the Park, Sentinel Bridge was closed so we were forced over towards Half Dome Village. We found a place to park. In a lot that had about a dozen of these yellow signs warning you to NOT leave food in your car. Use the bear vaults.

Okay, but we didn’t see any bear vaults. And there was no way to get all the food out of Taco Negro. We had lunch to think about it, which was not all that fun because the smell of garbage was pretty potent in that little spot.

We didn’t want to find out the hard way that you really shouldn’t leave food in your car, so we set off to find a better spot.

Big mistake. We drove about 5-10 mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way around the valley. Every parking lot we passed was full. Eventually we got past Yosemite Village and things started to thin out a bit. We parked at the El Capitan trailhead and took a walk to the base of this 3,000 foot rock.

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A reminder of what El Cap looks like.

We saw some climbers on the shaded side, which gave me an opportunity to use my new 70-200mm zoom lens:

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At first, I couldn’t make out the climber at all. Michael pointed him out to me. But he couldn’t be out there all by himself – what were all those haul bags for?

 

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But when I edited these photos, I was able to zoom in even more. There are actually two more climbers on the left side of the photo.

 

 

 

When we got back to the truck it was 4pm. Were things winding down in Yosemite Village? That’s kind of how things worked in Yellowstone (which we visited in August – the height of the tourist season). We had the option of leaving the park, or turning left and going back through the loop of Yosemite Valley.

We went left. And about 30 seconds later ( 25 seconds past the point at which we could still have corrected things) we realized our mistake.

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It took us two hours to drive the Yosemite Valley loop. Well, I was just the passenger. Michael was driving, so direct all your sympathy to him. This was a one-way road with no exits – believe me, we looked. And every parking lot was still full. We drove so slowly that sometimes we weren’t even moving. Michael just shut the truck off. When we eventually made our way back west, I saw some people walking who stopped to take pictures. What were they looking at? I twisted in my seat.

It was Half Dome. I grabbed my camera, leaned way out of the window, and took this picture:

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When we arrived alongside Yosemite Falls, there were parking spots available, but now it was 6pm. I wanted to get back to Tunnel View Point, and Michael obliged.

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Sunset it definitely the best time to stand at Tunnel View Point. The Yosemite Valley really is magical, if you can look past the traffic. We were not done with this area yet. But we knew, going back the next day, that we had to have a plan.

Next post: The Plan.

This Too Shall Pass

Last week was a bit tough. It didn’t start out that way, and so the eventual roller-coaster made for a rough ride. And I found that even when something is expected that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to deal with.

We headed out of Sequoia National Park on Mother’s Day. There is no cell reception up there, no internet, and both of us had to wish our moms a happy Mother’s Day. (I usually joke that this is how you stay on the Good Daughter List, you know.)

Another reason for our departure – we saw an updated weather report. It was supposed to keep getting colder, with snow forecast Monday through Wednesday. We’ve always considered this adventure to be the “never winter” tour. While we have down sleeping bags and plenty of stuff to keep warm… for me, it’s just not that fun to camp in the freezing cold.

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As a side note, I think that CVT should totally be sending out their brand ambassadors to the National Parks this summer. Not to try and and convert any of the campers – the RV crowd is pretty set in their ways – but to show the rooftop tent off to National Parks employees.

While we were camped at site #182, multiple campers drove by slowly, pointing and staring. But the first person who stopped was a maintenance employee. While he was talking to Michael, a law enforcement officer pulled up. She promptly asked if she could see inside the tent.

I’m pretty sure we made another convert that day.

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Tell me that doesn’t look like Lick Your Bin.

 

One other side note: there were several dumpsters at the Lodgepole Campground, and they all had this sticker.

 

 

 

We headed north out of Sequoia National Park, along the General’s Highway, and crossed into Kings Canyon National Park. We saw the General Grant tree, which is the largest in a grove of giant sequoias, before moving on to lower elevations.

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We arrived in the town of Sanger (the nation’s Christmas tree capital!) hungry. In addition to calling our moms I needed to work on the blog – something I typically do from a coffee shop. That wasn’t going to work with our level of hunger, so…

We went to Denny’s. Look, there weren’t a lot of options there in Sanger. Although the restaurant didn’t have WiFi, at least our booth had an outlet. Our waitress looked over our table, laden with laptops and journals, and breathed a visible sigh of relief. Easy customers – on Mother’s Day.

We got all of our work done, called our moms, and went on a supply run at WalMart. (I never thought I would shop so much at WalMart!) We picked up three tubes of ground turkey for Elvis. He quit eating dog food while we were still in San Luis Obispo, and on the advice of our vets, Jacques and Ali, we switched to an alternative diet of ground turkey and rice. (If you haven’t been following the blog, Michael’s brother, Jacques, and Jacques’s wife, Ali, are both vets with their own practice, Evergreen Animal Clinic, in Santa Maria.) While Elvis didn’t eat his new food all that enthusiastically, he did eat most of it.

Heading west out of Sanger we aimed for a reservoir called Pine Flat Lake. There were several free campsite’s on the reservoir’s east side. The problem was that California really loves its twisty roads. I couldn’t do more than 30 mph as we drove along Trimmer Lake Road, which follows Pine Flat Lake. The lake itself is 18 miles long!

After an hour or so I was just tired. Tired of the windy-ness, tired of driving. It was after 6pm anyway. We were in National Forest land, so we could camp just about anywhere we wanted, and we kept passing pullouts that were large enough for three cars. I didn’t see any No Camping signs. So when we came upon a jumbo-sized pull-out I drove into it. Campsite established.

It was a lot warmer than up in the Park. We were treated to a nice sunset, too.

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Monday morning Elvis woke us with an awful horking sound – I couldn’t get him down the ladder by myself, so I held onto him and held the door of the tent open and he barfed green bile down the ladder. Poor guy, he’d been doing that a lot lately. Combined with him eating less and less, we were worried. At his age (16), any problem has a potential to be a big problem. It looked like he’d already managed to lose all the weight he’d put on during our stay in SLO.

We headed back to Sanger, partly because there was no road that went directly north, and partly because I needed to get back into the land of cell phone reception. My mom underwent knee replacement surgery that morning, in Michigan, so I wanted to be able to call my dad for updates.

My mom came through the surgery fine and the surgeon was happy, although my mom was slow to come out from the anesthesia. But everything was looking pretty good.

Michael, however, had three voicemails from the assisted living facility where his parents live. When we reached Sanger we went to Starbucks (again, we did not have a lot of options) where I edited photos and Michael tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

Short version: It turned out that Michael’s dad had reached the point where he requires too much assistance to continue at his Type I living assisted facility. The rules with Type I Assisted Living, Type II assisted living, and skilled nursing are supposedly pretty clear-cut. Good luck trying to prove it. There are no federal regulations with assisted living so each state has their own guidelines. Again, short version: He was going to have to leave Morningside, the assisted living facility where he and my mother in law have been living since January. Complicating things further, my mother in law was in the clear. Would they have to live in separate locations?

Well, shit. Michael and I looked at each other in this crowded Starbucks full of college kids, and knew that we’d have to put the trip on hold again. With no plan in place, and no idea what to do yet, we went with the simplest option: we went back to San Luis Obispo. It was only three hours away. Surely Jacques and Ali would be able to help us figure this out.

Jacques just told us that he and Ali were happy to help, which was good since we were already on the way when Michael called. When we arrived back at the house, Ali took one look at Elvis and suggested that we bring him to the clinic the next day for some blood work.

Here’s where things get difficult. We knew when we left on this trip that something like this might happen – even back in August of 2016 Elvis was an old dog. Up until recently, though, people sometimes had a hard time believing he was as old as we said.

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I mean, that picture was taken on May 19, 2016, right after I’d had him groomed for the first time in his life. He was so soft and fluffy, I just couldn’t stop petting him. His eyes are all bright and lively. He looks happy. He did well on this trip, although he was slowing down a bit. In most of the pictures I have of him since August of 2016 he’s asleep. But in January of this year Elvis went on a backpacking trip with us and seemed to enjoy it. In April he was still chasing the tennis ball. But in the past week he really began to decline: sleeping more and more, eating less and less. He seemed unhappy. So when we brought Elvis to the clinic we did not have high hopes. Elvis had some blood drawn, an x-ray taken, and we went on our way. Ali said she’d be able to talk to us more about him that night.

Over dinner, Jacques and Ali gently told us that Elvis’s liver was enlarged. And failing. While the cause was not completely known, he most likely had some kind of cancer. We could order additional tests if we wanted to be sure.

I didn’t really see the point. First of all, I trust Jacques and Ali. (If you’ve ever had a pet, you know how awesome it is to love and trust your vet.) Sure, we could learn the exact cause, but it wouldn’t change the end result: Elvis was dying.

Not unexpectedly,either. He was a very old dog. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it yet, but we don’t know Elvis’s exact age. When we adopted him in 2002 we were told he was 1-2 years old. So he was either 16 or 17. Very old. And he’s lived a good life as our Adventure Dog.

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Elvis couldn’t have been more than five years old in this picture. We were up in the Pingree Park area of Colorado, hiking towards Emmaline Lake.

Elvis was the best hiking partner I ever had. He was always ready to go. He loved hiking – running around the woods, sniffing everything. And he’d always come back and check in with me (something Bailey has not quite mastered). The only time we ever wore Elvis out completely? A six day backpacking trip. That’s right, it once took six days to wear out this dog.

Of course, this is the same dog who liked to roll in dead fish, as well as eat his own poop. As a border collie/Australian shepherd mix, he was “highly reactionary” (scientific term, it just means he barked at EVERYTHING).

One time he chased after a moose. I called him back but hid behind a tree – moose are notoriously ill-tempered and if things went south that dog was on his own. But Elvis was such an obedient dog. He came right back. (Way back, when we took him to basic and intermediate obedience, he was the star pupil.)

Fifteen years of memories. I could write a book.

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Valley of the Gods, UT. March 2016

But as of the day after Mother’s Day he just wasn’t eating. I mean, at all. Wednesday morning he even refused bacon. We knew he was suffering, and that’s the last thing you want for someone you love.

That’s why all the pictures I’m putting in this post are from Elvis’s younger, happier days. It’s how I want to remember him. What’s killing me is that I have so many pictures of Elvis… on my desktop. Which is currently in a storage unit in Longmont, Colorado. I’m doing the best I can here.

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I’m not sure when this one was taken… but there’s no gray in Michael’s beard. Draw your own conclusions.
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Independence Pass, 2015

We euthanized Elvis on Friday, May 19th, at 8:30 in the morning. Jacques and Ali were so gracious to do this at their home. I felt incredibly lucky that we were able to end Elvis’s suffering at a place where he was comfortable, surrounded by people he knew and loved. My worst nightmare would have been having our high-strung dog euthanized surrounded by strangers on a cold steel table. But we spread out Elvis’s favorite blanket in the living room and laid him out on it, his head in Michael’s lap. I sat down on Elvis’s other side and Bailey sat down on Michael’s other side. We were all together.

It was over far quicker than I thought it would be. Completely painless – Elvis didn’t even flinch from the needle. He drifted off to sleep, and within minutes his heart had stopped. Michael and I sat with Elvis for a while after. He was still warm and his fur was so soft. Finally I could pet him without fear of hurting him. I told him he was a good dog.

Eventually, though, it was time. Jacques picked Elvis up so gently, as if he’d picked up his own child, and carried him out to the car. I will be forever grateful for that act of kindness. Ali drove Elvis up to the clinic, suggesting that I take Bailey for a walk instead of accompanying her. (Apparently things get kind of industrial at the clinic.)

We decided to have Elvis cremated. It’s actually something they offer at the Evergreen Animal Clinic. Initially I thought the idea was a bit much – the body is just a shell, right? Is this really necessary? But the thought of bringing Elvis with us as we continue to travel is oddly comforting.

Later that morning we brought Bailey to the Avila Dog Beach and wore him out with a tennis ball, a chuckit, and the ocean. He didn’t act like anything was amiss. I, however, spent the entire day feeling like I’d forgotten something. I’d get out of the truck and double-check: sunglasses, keys, wallet… what was I missing?

Oh.

Missing Elvis is hard.

We Camped at Sequoia National Park!

I left off the last post describing the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. I’m not done! I’ve loved all the National Parks we’ve visited, and Sequoia was no different.

Picking back up – we went out to see the General Sherman tree in the fog. That was cool and all, but we had even more fun walking along the 2-mile Congress Trail. I mean, we got to walk through a tree!

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I did not have to duck when I walked through there…

As well as get a look at what a giant sequoia’s root system looks like.

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GoGoTacoNegroFor such a huge tree, their roots are quite shallow, going down only about three feet. They are incredibly dense, though. We got an extra treat at this root system. A marmot!

While I have to admit they do look kind of cute, I consider them more pests than anything else. I remember once trying to summit Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain NP. Up at an area called the Boulder Field, at around 12,000 feet, the Park Service installed a couple of toilets. Michael went off to use one and left me with both our packs… which I had to hold and defend from several determined marmots. Still, it’s hard to pass up a good picture.

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Near General Sherman we found this cross-section of a 2,000 year old sequoia. It was cut down in the 1950’s because it was too close to some cabin. Sad, right? The Park Service admits now that they were protecting the wrong thing.

 

 

After the Giant Forest we continued on towards the south entrance of the park. I was hoping that the clouds would have a ceiling, that we’d break through them into bright sunshine.

Nice try. We got all the way to Hospital Rock (which is pretty near the southern entrance and visitor’s center) before stopping to let the dogs out… in the rain. Seemed like there was no bottom to the clouds.

Even though it was around 4pm, we didn’t worry too much about finding a place to camp. See, earlier in the day, we decided to break one of our Cardinal Rules: never pay for camping. In general it’s a pretty good rule. We’ve camped at a lot of amazing sites that didn’t cost a thing.

But earlier that day we were standing there at the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center, and the guy said there were still lots of available sites at the Lodgepole Campground. It was $22/night, but the location put us at the center of the Park. We looked at the budget, as well as our supplies, and decided to go for it. Site #182 was ours! Until Sunday the 14th at noon, anyway.

So we pretty much took our time getting back to camp. We stopped at a spot called Big Fern Springs before continuing on the road up.

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So many waterfalls! So little time.

Visibility got slightly better as we headed back up, but things were still pretty socked in.

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Some day I’d like to come back and see what the views are supposed to be from the steep and windy switchbacks that take you from 3,000 feet to 7,000 feet in just a few miles.

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Our view was still pretty cool, though. Somehow this is what I picture Colombia looking like. Or Peru. I almost expected to see an old bus lumbering through the frame.

The clouds were so low at the Lodgepole campground that at first I thought it was raining. It turned out to be mist, and it cleared off eventually. We found out that it’s actually acceptable to collect downed firewood here. We saw so many people gathering branches and sticks, we asked our neighbors in site #181 about it. They said there was a notice on the board outside the bathrooms, and that for right now it’s okay, so… Michael went to town collecting. We had a wonderful fire, and it was so nice to not have to get into the tent as soon as it got dark.

The forecasted overnight low temperature was 30o. Elvis slept up in the tent with us, burrowed into his blanket. We still give him a Valium at night and I can tell you that it definitely helps him to sleep through the night. No more pacing or panic attacks. We all slept wonderfully. Bailey is younger and quite a bit fatter, but we keep a down blanket for him to sleep on/in. Sometimes we even wrap him up as a little “Bailey burrito.”

Saturday morning I had one tiny regret about site #182. It was in the shade until about 9:45. When I got up at 8:30 and walked Bailey around the campground, I looked enviously at the rigs parked in full sun. It wasn’t fun making coffee in 40 degree weather, but drinking it sure made the morning better.

Our goal for that day was a hike to a place called Morro Rock. We saw the view on a postcard and it looked spectacular. You can see some images here.

The weather foiled us again. By the time we got to the turnoff for the Morro Rock parking lot, the fog had set in. By the time we got to the actual parking lot, visibility was maybe 5 feet. I had on my headlights, fog lights, and my hazards, driving at 5mph and watching the edge of the road as we crept along. From what I could see, though, the Morro Rock trail parking lot was completely full.

No Morro Rock for us. Apparently the fog had rolled in at 10:30am that day. Time for plan B. We drove back to camp – which was, amazingly, somehow still in the sun. We had a little lunch and then set out to hike to Tokopah Falls. And while a waterfall hike always sounds awesome, the real reason I wanted to hike this trail was that the trailhead was right at the edge of the Lodgepole campground. Lucky us! Also, a Park Service employee told us the falls were “really boiling,” so I was pretty excited to go check it out.

This was a short hike (about 1.7 miles each way) along the Kaweah River, and the grade never got truly steep. The views were astounding. By the time we hit the talus slope, right before the falls, it was hard to remember that we were in a place known for its giant trees.

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Apparently you can hike beyond this point – it’s not recommended, though. If I’d brought more than just my camera I would definitely been up for it. This area was gorgeous.

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The fog came rolling in during our hike up, although it stayed at a pretty high altitude. I’d have to live here a lot longer to even begin to understand the strange weather.

 

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I just couldn’t stop taking photographs!

 

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He’s my favorite subject, though.

In The Land of Giant Sequoias

We headed out of San Luis Obispo on Tuesday, May 9th and headed east and north. Our first stop: Sequoia National Monument.

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We spent two days at this free little spot, and didn’t see another person. (Apparently the road that lead to it had only been open for a few days.) We did see two fighter jets –  our campsite was actually buzzed by two planes on Wednesday morning. They passed right above us, right over the treetops, and it was so cool. We heard more around us during our stay but never saw them again. I found out later that the aircraft were based out of China Lake Naval Air Station.

The weather was super pleasant, although Elvis tended to need a little help staying warm.

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We found that blanket at the San Luis Obispo Goodwill for $5. The heavy polyester actually sticks to Elvis, so when he gets up to change positions or drink water, the thing hangs off him like a cape. The old guy needs all the help he can get, as he recently stopped eating dog food of any kind. Even the kind with bacon grease added. Based on the advice of our vets (Jacques and Allison), we tried out ground turkey and rice, which Elvis has been inhaling. I thought it was only cats that would starve themselves out of spite…

The next day we took a little walk down the hill (we meant me, Michael, and Bailey. Elvis stayed in the truck with his blanket) to find the source of the roaring water we’d been hearing.

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Bailey was more than up for the adventure. He’s been a real trooper, snuggling with Elvis sometimes, and being an all-around great helper dog. He was very ready to run around.

 

 

 

California’s snowpack reached 170% of normal this year in the Sierra Nevadas, so there is water everywhere. It sure was pretty, though.

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We followed this creek back up to the road, where the flow was a lot more gentle, before returning to camp. GoGoTacoNegro

While we didn’t see any giant sequoias during our stay, we did see some damn tall trees.

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After restocking in the town of Porterville, we headed northwest to the north entrance of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. We camped for the night at a free site along Ten Mile Road, which is just outside the National Park border.

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I’ve really been missing our Revel Gear lights. I don’t know what I did but they stopped working a little while ago. Luckily Revel Gear is an awesome company and they’re sending us a new set, yay!

Man oh man was I excited to get to see giant sequoia trees. The weather up in the Park was strange for me, although I was assured by Park staff that the afternoon fog was totally normal for this time of year.

We drove to the Giant Forest to see General Sherman, the world’s largest tree.

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For the record, it is actually really hard to photograph giant sequoias. General Sherman is the tree in the center and is approximately 2,200 years old. The dark part at the base is an old burn scar – sequoias evolved with fire, and the giant trees generally survive them quite well. All the large trees we saw had multiple burn scars.

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This fog rolled in while we were hiking around what’s called the Congress Trail, and while it made things chillier, it was like hiking through a cloud. I loved taking these pictures.

Remember how I said it was actually difficult to photograph these trees? It’s because they’re so tall. Even with my 18mm lens I could either get the base or the top. Not both.

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I tended to go for the base. And sometimes even the base wouldn’t fit in the frame. These trees really are giants.

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So did Michael. I have to tell you, walking into this stand of huge trees… it was magical. Everyone should try it – if only to remind you of how small you really are.

Remember how I said water is everywhere here?

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Yeah. It was everywhere.

Next post: our adventures in Sequoia National Park continue!

 

Two weeks already?!?

It’s kind of hard to believe we arrived in San Luis Obispo on April 22nd. How has so much time passed already?

I certainly can’t complain. It’s pretty awesome here. Jacques took us to the nearby town of Orcutt to play disc golf at Waller Pines Park.

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That’s actually Jacques, although it can be hard to tell the two brothers apart from a distance.

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Waller Pines is actually 36 holes! We played 18 and called it good. But what we played of the course was a ton of fun. I especially liked these signs at every tee – we never got lost looking for the next hole.

 

 

 

 

We’ve been running a lot too. Michael, Allison, and I all went out to a place called Irish Hills Natural Reserve for a big one. Almost 8 miles for Michael and Ali, and I clocked in with 6.5 miles.This is a fabulous place to run.

Michael and I took the dogs to Avila Beach – specifically, to the dog beach at Avila. Two separate people asked us if Elvis was a rescue. Which, of course, he is. Was. I mean, we did rescue him…15 years ago. Why were people suddenly asking about him now? Bailey’s a rescue too, and nobody asked about him. Then I realized that it was Elvis’s new shaved haircut. You can see most of his bones now, so I guess people thought he’d spent his life chained to a tree or something, instead of being spoiled rotten since 2002. We had to explain that there’s nothing wrong with Elvis – he’s just old.

After wearing the dogs out at the beach (it took a while with Bailey), we went to lunch at Mersea’s in Port San Luis, opting to sit outside and watch the water. We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the sun.

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I was tempted to correct this one in Photoshop, to make the dock look more horizontal. But all the sea lions were piled onto one end. It really was that tilted.

Mersea’s offers a sweet view of the Avila Beach area.

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Lots of small boats passed by, but the best was these two SUPs:

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I wonder if Bailey would hang out on a stand-up paddleboard? I’d bring Elvis but people might think we were torturing him or something.

Michael and I also took a little drive down to Oceano, to see the dunes. While it’s only $5 per car to drive onto the dunes (which are right on the water), we kind of got that out of our system back in Texas. So we walked, which definitely put us in the minority.

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I did get some pretty good pictures, though.

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Our next step might just be the hardest…. it’s time to move on. We’ve still got places to visit, new things to see. Our first stop will be the Yosemite area. That might be an adventure in and of itself, as the California snowpack is at about 170% of normal right now. Tuolumne Meadows isn’t expected to open until July. Hell, parts of Yosemite Valley are flooded right now, so we’ll just have to play the camping situation a little loose.

Stay tuned!

Life in the SLO Lane

We arrived in San Luis Obispo, California, on Saturday, April 22nd, to hang out for a bit with the California Drazsnzaks (aka Michael’s brother, Jacques, Jacques’ wife, Allison, and their two daughters, India and Phoebe).

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We’ve been here a couple of times before and enjoyed this area immensely. There’s always something fun to do – let’s count the ways, shall we?

  1. Farmer’s Markets

While there are only (?!) three farmer’s markets each week in San Luis Obispo itself, according to SanLuisObispoVacations.com within San Luis Obispo county there is at least one farmer’s market every single day of the week. How cool is that?

We started off with the legendary Thursday night market in downtown SLO. This one has it all: local produce, locally made products, live entertainment, and BBQ.

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You can tell who married in to the family. Phoebe’s 9 and she’s almost as tall as I am.

We went to the Thursday night market for a jar of local honey, some vegetables, and then found some excellent gyros and falalfel from a place called Oasis. Yummy!

We meant to go to the Saturday morning market over on Madonna Road, but that one closes at 10:45 and we didn’t make it. Arroyo Grande to the rescue! AG is the next town over from SLO, and their Saturday farmer’s market runs from noon-2:30.

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This one is on the small side – only two blocks long, but the produce in Arroyo Grande did not disappoint.

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I know that we’re in California and all, but I just couldn’t help but make the observation that in Colorado, we don’t get produce like this until at least June. And I’m pretty sure I’ve never even seen English peas at the Longmont farmer’s market.

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We saw enough chickens to make me think of Key West,

 

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and everyone enjoyed this little suspension bridge.

 

 

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2. Cool restaurants

I did find something completely new and different in SLO: Blast 85 Taproom. It’s a bar and restaurant, which isn’t all that unusual… but I’ve never seen beer served this way before.

There are over 35 beers on tap here – and you get to serve yourself. If you want to try something new, just pour yourself a couple of ounces. No problem!  Here’s how it works: when you check in with the bartender, she takes a look at your ID and your credit card, and gives you something they call the Smart Beer Wristband. There’s a chip in the wristband that keeps track of what you pour, as well as how much. You pay for it all when you’re ready to go. I had never heard of this concept before. Genius! The bartenders are on hand if you have questions, but there is a screen above each tap handle with information about each beer.

Did I use the word genius already?

3. Theater

Jacques and Ali gave us a special treat, getting extra tickets so that we could join the family for PCPA’s performance of the musical Lend Me a Tenor down in Santa Maria.

The performance was brilliant and I was a bit surprised. The central coast of California seems a little isolated, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Santa Maria is the biggest town at about 100,000 people. (SLO itself is around 65,000). I just didn’t expect actors and theater people to flock to the area. Part of the reason, I think, is the PCPA – the Pacific Conservatory Theater.

It’s part of Hancock Community College, and through one of their unique programs students can study “Career and Technical Education,” working right alongside professional actors and resident artists. How cool is that?

Ali also told me that Hancock works closely with California’s other colleges and universities – so that classes taken there (here’s a list of academic departments) will actually transfer towards a Bachelor’s degree.

How cool is that?

4. Morro Bay

Morro Bay is fondly referred to as Three Stacks and a Rock in reference to the two main features there (besides the bay itself).

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The Morro Bay Power Plant
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Morro Rock

The Morro Bay Power Plant was built in the early 1950’s and shut down in 2014. It hasn’t been decommissioned and sits empty on about 100 acres of prime real estate. The New York Times wrote a great article about it – you can read it here.

We rented kayaks for a paddle around the bay, which was amazing. We saw sea lions (from a distance) and sea otters (from a greater distance) and even a manta ray. After a couple hours we were a little tired and hungry, and headed over to a place called Dockside #2 for lunch. Michael went for fish & chips, I had the fish tacos, and we enjoyed the live music, which was a guy and his banjo. He played mostly folk songs although he did take requests. He reminded me a bit of my friend Kevin Slick in that he seemed to know every song.

The third time he asked if there were any requests I decided to test his bluegrass chops. I asked for Foggy Mountain Breakdown. This song is generally known as the Bluegrass National Anthem (you can listen to it here), and to my delight he did a pretty good job!

Not as good as David Okay Patton, of course. (Happy birthday, Dave!)

With full bellies we went for a little stroll around Morro Bay. It’s a pretty town, although at this point we’ve been to so many tourist towns that they all kinda look the same: saltwater taffy, T-shirts, jewelry, a gallery or two. We did get to see my favorite car of all time, though.

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A 1966 Stingray Corvette. Michael finally told me to stop taking pictures of it, already.

We walked near the docks for a bit…

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And saw a few things bobbing in the water nearby.

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Sea otters! And let me tell you, they were adorable.

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We’ve barely scratched the surface on California’s central coast. But so far it’s been pretty awesome.

All About Elvis

If you follow this blog, you know that we have two dogs, Bailey and Elvis. Both are rescues. Elvis came from a place called Second Chance Rescue in 2002. At the time his age was estimated at 1-2 years. (Doing the math… that makes him an old dog.) Bailey came from the Longmont Humane Society and when we took him home in 2013, his age was estimated at 1.5 years.

I don’t think Elvis has ever quite forgiven us for bringing home a second dog. Four years into it, I think that he secretly likes Bailey, but in general Elvis generally seems to show a certain level of disdain for his younger companion. Luckily Bailey rolls with the punches.

Bailey has also rolled with the punches in our travels… unlike Elvis. Our new lifestyle has been a little tough on the old guy. By nature he’s a nervous and twitchy little dog (he’s a border collie/Australian shepherd mix) who doesn’t deal well with changes in his routine. We’ve done many things to make the traveling life more comfortable for Elvis. Things like putting bacon grease on his food to get him to eat, and giving him Valium at night to help him sleep.

Elvis seems to really like living with the California Drazsnzaks. I found this surprising because Jacques and Allison have two energetic daughters (India and Phoebe), a dog (Rusty), two cats (Lilly and Sam), a rat (whose name I forget), and a bearded dragon (Bones). The quiet moments here can be few and far between.

Plus, after only a day or so here, Allison took Elvis to work with her. (Did I mention that Jacques and Allison are both vets, with their own clinic, the Evergreen Animal Clinic? They’ve been helping us out with our dog-related questions for months.) I had our vet in Colorado fax over Elvis’s medical records and Allison gave Elvis a big physical.

So this is how Elvis normally looked.

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OK, so that’s an old picture… but it’s perfect for showing just how much fur Elvis has. Had. Because this is what he looked like when he came home that night:

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Yep, he got shaved. It was necessary – he had mats and tangles and all sorts of nasty things imbedded in his long fur. I understand. But still… he looked like a drowned rat. His collar was suddenly three sizes too big. And he was not happy about his new look. I tried to scratch him behind the ears that night, and I swear that dog gave me the side-eye as he walked away.

So the upside was that Elvis was free of his nasty old fur. But it gets chilly in San Luis Obispo at night, and that dog was suddenly shivering a lot more than he used to. That first night he slept next to me and Michael in the bed (something he hadn’t done in years). Then he started seeking out every blanket in the house.

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Michael made this little dog burrito, but I’m telling you – Elvis stayed in this exact position for three hours.

In case you’re worried about our senior citizen – Elvis was back to running around, chasing the tennis ball, and generally being a happy dog about a day after being shaved. If anything, he seemed happier than ever. Snuggly. Affectionate, even.

Now, because Allison had done a lot of poking and prodding, I thought Elvis might hold a bit of a grudge against her. (He’s been known to do that.) But one night, this was the scene in the Drazsnzak living room:

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Yep, that’s Elvis. Snuggling with Allison. He loves it here.

I’ll feel a little bad when we resume our travels… But not bad enough to leave him behind. Elvis has always been the Adventure Dog and our adventures are not over yet. So before we head out for Yosemite (our next destination) we’ll stock up on the bacon grease and refill his Valium prescription.